Printable PDF: 1-7-2018 Epiphany Sermon 2018
Pastor Jacobson ~ Epiphany ~ January 7, 2018 ~ Matthew 2:1-12
SALVATION & STUFF
1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: 6“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” 7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” 9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
The Magi or wise men are included in the nativity scene, but the truth is they actually came to a different party. While the angels sang and the shepherds saw Jesus on the night of his birth, the Magi were at best still on their way. We don’t exactly know when the Magi made it to Bethlehem, we only know Mary and Joseph and Jesus were staying in a house and not a stable. There are other tidbits of information we don’t exactly know about the Magi either. We don’t know exactly where they came from, only that they came from the east. We don’t know the exact number of Magi either, only that Magi like wise men means more than one.
We don’t know these exact details of the Magi, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make some pretty good guesses. The next Bible story is The Escape to Egypt. King Herod ordered that all Bethlehem boys under the age of two be killed. At the very least the Magi used up two-week vacation time to make this trip. Another time we hear of Magi or wise men in the Bible is in the Old Testament book of Daniel. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were among the wise men far out east in Babylon 600 years earlier. The fiery furnace and the lion’s den tell us how these men boldly spoke of their faith. Was their message lost over time, or was their message retold and told again to these Magi? And while the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh conveniently place three magi in our nativity scenes, safety concerns lead many to believe there were probably more than three men who came to see Jesus.
We don’t know the details about these Magi and these good guesses can be wrong, but far more important than speculation are these things we know for certain about these Magi. 1) The Magi were far away on the night of Jesus’ birth. They were not in the fields nearby, watching their flock by night. 2) A special star, not an angel, was used to give them turn by turn navigation to Jesus. 3) They wanted to see Jesus.
They went to Jerusalem, not Bethlehem because they lost track of the special star. We don’t know what happened to this star. Was the star like our phones? Did the star run out of battery? Was the star stuck between cloud cushions? We don’t know. The Magi were like many of us without our phones. They didn’t know where to go. Jerusalem made good sense. Jerusalem is the city of David. Jerusalem is the city of Jewish kings. Any Jerusalem local should be able give to give directions. It would be like many of our good old days, when dad had to finally stop at a gas station for directions. Surprisingly, the Jerusalem locals had no idea about the birth of a king. Of course, you remember from two weeks ago how the Bethlehem shepherds had spread the word concerning what the angel had told them about this child, but apparently the spreading of that word did not make it six miles down the road to Jerusalem. The Magi brought that message to Jerusalem, and the church people of Jerusalem were able to communicate the city of Bethlehem to King Herod. We don’t know how the Magi felt during this time without the star. Did they have doubts about seeing Jesus? Did they view their travel as a potential waste of time, energy, and resources? We only know how they felt when the star reappeared, “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.” The Magi saw salvation, and the Magi gave him stuff.
The Bible calls that stuff gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Let’s not delve too deeply into why gold, why frankincense, why myrrh. Some will say gold for royalty, frankincense for priests, and myrrh for embalming. Let’s not go there. These gifts were given as expressions of love and thanksgiving for seeing their Savior and their salvation. And as the next story of Jesus’ childhood unfolds these gifts that gave worship to Jesus were not left as keepsakes on a shelf, but as a means to help Joseph get Jesus and Mary out of Bethlehem and into Egypt before King Herod could kill King Jesus.
King Herod and his company had a great opportunity to see their Savior. They were only six miles away! When the star light had gone away, it was like God had given them a personal invitation to join the Magi in worshipping him. They should have heard all of this good news from Bethlehem, but that’s okay. God made sure they heard the good news that had happened in the city close to them from people who travelled from far away. The Magi’s limited knowledge gave them a unique opportunity to study the Scriptures, Scriptures which they kind of already believed, and Scripture which had the power to make them wise for salvation…but their stuff! Their stuff, their standing as king and people of the palace, got in the way of their salvation. They were so stressed about their stuff. They were so stressed about the potential of a rival king, they did not see their salvation. Instead of worshipping him, King Herod put his time, effort, and resources into fighting a baby. And not only did he lose out on salvation, King Herod was so consumed with keeping his stuff, he never really enjoyed his earthly blessings either.
So what can we wise men, wise women, wise children learn from this account? What warnings and encouragements can we find for our life? Let’s start with the encouragements. The first encouragement has to do with our salvation. God will find us. The real truth is God has never lost us in the first place, but sometimes we feel that he has. We can feel that we are too far away. We can feel like we are not one of his people. God will find us. God wants all people in his kingdom. He will use his people, family, or friends to tell others about him. Or maybe his will is to use a postcard or a preschool program or the cross on church to help people learn about him. The first encouragement has to do with salvation. The second encouragement has to do with stuff. Your time, your energy and your financial resources are good stuff. It’s good stuff God gives you. Most of the time you can use your stuff for just about whatever you want, but it’s important to use some of our time to look for Jesus. It is important to use some of our energy to work through spiritual issues we don’t completely understand. It’s important to worship Jesus with our financial gifts because we see we have so much more in our salvation.
Let’s talk warnings. Warning #1 is about salvation. You only live once just like everyone else. Take time to learn about your salvation. Super Saturday is time well spent so is reading the Bible and Bible study. Don’t let your stuff get in the way of your salvation. Warning #2. Are you stressed about your stuff? Are you stressed about your calendar and checkbook? Are you fighting over your standing in your house or in your place of employment? Are you not being treated as the King or Queen of your house by others? Are you worked up about what everyone else is doing or not doing for you? Has your stuff and standing come ahead of your salvation? Has the simple activities of learning about Christ and serving in his kingdom become a rival to your time and for your energy and for your treasures?
The Magi are good examples for us, but Jesus is our Savior. Jesus saved us from the sin of misplaced priorities because his stress was on a kingdom not of this world. His fight was not against flesh and blood, but sin and damnation. He won heaven for us not with a show of force, but a show of humility. His cross is our key for heaven. And even now he wins a home in our hearts through is word and sacraments, not a sword or spear. And so in response how about we make our stress about how we are going to read the Bible this year or our decision on which Bible class we are going to attend on Sunday or during the week? How about our fight is not with the people at home or the people in our lives, but against the temptation that creeps into our hearts? Like the wise men, seek the king and the kingdom. That’s the really good stuff, our salvation. His salvation is what us wise people want to use our other stuff – our time, energy, and treasure to get a better look at as well as to worship our king. Amen.